Wide Receiver Amari Cooper
The Oakland Raiders are back on the road this weekend, returning to the East Coast to take on the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Just like the Silver and Black, the Ravens are coming off a win, and Head Coach John Harbaugh's group will look to defend their home turf, and remain undefeated after four games.
The Silver and Black no doubt have a big challenge in front of them, so here are five questions I have heading into the Week 4 game with the Ravens.
1. Can the offensive line respond yet again?
Each week it seems like the Raiders offensive line heads into the game with a different combination, and Sunday's game figures to be business as usual for the unit, with rookie Vadal Alexander likely to get the nod at right tackle.
After injuring his lower leg in the Week 3 win over the Titans, Menelik Watson has not practiced this week, and neither has veteran lineman Austin Howard.
Matt McCants did return to the practice field this week, but after playing a majority of the snaps at right tackle last weekend, conventional wisdom would say that Alexander would get the chance to play again against the Ravens.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice has done an outstanding job of getting the unit ready to play at a high level each week, and I'll be interested to see how they respond in Baltimore with yet another combination of players.
2. How does the team respond to back-to-back road trips?
Going on the road is never an easy task in the NFL, but going on the road, making back-to-back trips to east of the Mississippi River? That's even harder.
However, that's what the Raiders will have to do this weekend, flying to Baltimore in a bid to improve their road record to 3-0, after returning home from Tennessee just five days earlier.
The travel time, combined with the always-discussed 10:00 a.m. PT kickoff, will be a tough task for Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group, but they'll have to be early risers if they hope to return back to California with another win in tow.
As important as it is to start fast, I'm more interested to see how the team looks in the latter stages of the game, when the wear and tear of all that travel time will set in.
Playing on the road back-to-back weeks is incredibly challenging; I'm looking forward to seeing how the Silver and Black respond.
3. Will the offense return to form?
First of all, saying that the Raiders offense had an "off" day last weekend in Nashville is a bit of a stretch.
While quarterback Derek Carr did throw his first interception of the season, he also threw for 249 yards, and the team's trio of running backs once again eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
The team also manufactured 17 points in the first half, so if that's an "off" day, I'm sure most people could live with that.
However, Carr said postgame that the unit holds itself to a higher standard, and after the impressive offensive output the first two weeks, it's easy to understand why.
"We were sloppy today on offense, not to our standards," said Carr following the Week 3 win. "Did we win? Yes. Did we execute? Yes. Can we move the ball out of backed up situations when we had penalties? Yes. Did we do those things right? Yeah, but I hold us to a higher standard than that. I expect more but we did enough today to win."
This group has the ability to be one of the top-ranked offenses in the NFL, and I'm hopeful they'll look the part once again against the Ravens.
4. Can the secondary keep improving?
It's no secret that the Raiders secondary struggled in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Drew Brees and Matt Ryan looked unstoppable in their respective matchups with the Raiders, and a noted improvement was necessary heading into the team's Week 3 bout with the Tennessee Titans.
Well, the Raiders certainly responded against Marcus Mariota, limiting the second-year quarterback to 17-of-33 for 214 yards, and a pair of interceptions en route to a 17-10 win.
The group will once again have its hands full again this weekend, as they square off against Joe Flacco and the barrage of offensive weapons at his disposal.
"Flacco is a guy that can make all the throws," said cornerback Sean Smith. ""He doesn't need much time. He can just be standing in the pocket, and just sling that thing 50 yards across the field. Tight coverage is what we're definitely going to need again this week, but again, as long as we go out there and just be who we are, and do what we do, we should be alright."
Tight coverage will be imperative Sunday, so I'll be keeping a close eye on the secondary throughout the game.
5. How does Kelechi Osemele's homecoming go?
After spending the first four years of his career – and winning a Super Bowl – with the Ravens, Kelechi Osemele is headed back to Baltimore for the first time as an opposing player.
The versatile lineman was one of the prizes of the Raiders free agent haul, and has been impressive since putting on the Silver and Black, providing yet another imposing presence along the offensive front.
Emotions will certainly run high Sunday afternoon for Osemele, as he returns to face off against the team that drafted him in the second round (No. 60 overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft.
"It's definitely going to be an emotional day," Osemele explained. "Guys that were your teammate you're going to be competing against for the first time ever. That's going to be a different twist. It's definitely going to be a passionate day for me. It's a lot of mixed feelings going on at that time in that stadium."
As fired up as Osemele will be to return to Maryland, I'm sure the return flight will be much sweeter with a win in his carry-on bag, and seeing how he performs with all eyes on him will be a storyline to follow all afternoon.